Sarah Al Amiri: who is the young space chief behind UAE's mission to Mars?

From launching satellites to a planned lunar mission, the engineer is the key driver of this country's space ambitions

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National Editorial: What Hope and the Mars Mission means

UAE space chief Sarah Al Amiri spearheads the mission to Mars, which will make history if it successfully orbits the Red Planet on Tuesday.

She is Minister of State for Advanced Technology and was appointed chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency in 2020.

The mother-of-two began her career a decade ago building satellites.

Later, she was part of the team that sent an Emirati astronaut to space and now has her sights on an upcoming lunar mission.

As the Hope probe prepares to enter Mars' orbit at 7.42pm UAE-time on Tuesday, we look at a career destined for the stars.

Launching a stellar career

In 2009, she graduated with a bachelor’s in computer engineering from the American University of Sharjah.

"It was a deep fascination into how these objects and computers worked. How they were built, how they were designed and how the hardware operates with the software,” she said in a recent interview.

In 2009, she was hired by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (then called the Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology) to work on the UAE’s first satellite, DubaiSat-1.

Since then, she has held multiple titles, including chairperson of UAE Council of Scientists and manager of space science section at the space centre.

She has been leading the Emirates Mars Mission as the deputy manager and science lead.

Speaking to The Nationalfor a podcast series reflecting on the year 2020, Ms Al Amiri explained how she and her team were able to launch a probe to Mars at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“That is what space teaches you, just be the nature of the risk that is in the business”.

She also have advice for those who have to lead a team through uncertain times:

“Change is not something that comes naturally to us ... but on the other hand, adaptability is something that comes naturally to us”, saying we must learn to balance between the two.

Climbing the ranks

Ms Al Amiri’s interest and contribution to the country’s space programme helped her achieve more senior roles.

In a UAE Cabinet reshuffle in 2017, she was appointed as the Minister of State for Advanced Sciences.

In another reshuffle last year, she became the chairwoman of UAE Space Agency, which is a federal entity that manages and supervises the nation’s space sector, and was named Minister of State for Advanced Technology.

Since her appointment, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, announced that more space missions – including human spaceflights and satellites – would in the works over the next decade.

Global accolades

Ms Al Amiri was selected as one of 50 young scientists that were honoured by the World Economic Forum in 2015. Her efforts in helping develop the fields of science, tech and engineering were highlighted.

In 2016, the varsity she graduated from placed her in the Alumni Wall of Fame.

More recently, she was included in the BBC's 100 Women 2020.

Success built on strong foundations

Ms Al Amiri was raised in Abu Dhabi and comes from a line of accomplished women, including doctors, accountants, teachers and bankers.

"My mother is a college graduate. She was a teacher who was quite passionate about what she was doing," Ms Al Amiri told news wire AFP.

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